Every weekday from June 12-27, we will be looking back at the "Top Shelf Moments" from the 2016-17 WCHA Men's League season. Up next on our countdown is…
Moment #2: Tolvanen's Historic Streak
This story originally appeared in the official 2017 WCHA Tournament program. Special thanks to Jen Dobias, former Northern Michigan Sports Information Director, for writing this piece.
Five hours, 39 minutes and five seconds.
In that amount of time, you could binge watch the entire Mighty Ducks trilogy. You could come close to driving across Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Or you could fly from Los Angeles to New York.
As for Atte Tolvanen, that was how long he went without allowing a goal. From January 20 to February 17 of this year, Northern Michigan's sophomore goaltender rewrote first his school's, then the WCHA's and, finally, the NCAA's record books.
"I've been doing this for 36 years, and I've never seen anything quite like it," said Walt Kyle, NMU's head coach in 2016-17. "I shared that with the guys and told them it was a really remarkable thing, and they'd never see something like it again. It's a real credit to him and a credit to the guys in front of him who saw him performing and cared about him having success."
During his remarkable run, Tolvanen made 220 saves in a row. Between the time Alaska Anchorage's Jeremiah Luedtke and Minnesota State's Zeb Knutson managed to solve him, he blanked five-straight opponents: Alaska Anchorage on January 21, Bowling Green on February 3 and 4 and Alaska on February 10 and 11.
"It was like being around a pro," said freshman defenseman Rylan Yaremko. "You could tell before the games he was ready to go. It took a lot of pressure off of us, knowing that he was between the pipes. He's a special player, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to witness history."
Tolvanen's path to making history wasn't easy. In each of his shutouts, he made at least 34 saves, topping out at a career-best 48 on February 11.
"He's looking like the Carey Price of the WCHA," joked senior alternate captain Brock Maschmeyer after Tolvanen stopped 75 shots to whitewash the WCHA preseason favorites at Slater Family Ice Arena. "It's really nice to see him coming along in the second half. He's doing awesome."
Tolvanen channeled his inner Price multiple times during his scoreless streak. With 10:15 left to play in February 4's game, he made an improbable save on Brett D'Andrea, going post to post to snare his one-timer from the right circle. During Alaska's final power play on February 10, he stopped back-to-back bids by Tyler Cline and then scrambled to deny James LaDouce and Chad Staley's attempts to stuff home the loose puck.
With his five-straight shutouts, Tolvanen broke a 63-year-old WCHA men's record and tied Lake Superior State's Blaine Lacher for the NCAA men's record. Asked how he was feeling after his record-setting performance on February 11, Tolvanen just chuckled.
"It feels pretty good," he said. "It's a whole team effort. I would thank the guys. The guys have been doing so good in front of me; they've been helping me so much."
While Tolvanen came up 36 minutes and four seconds short of the NCAA men's record for consecutive scoreless minutes, his run will still go down as one of the finest put together by a collegiate goaltender at any level.
"What Atte Tolvanen did during his shutout streak was truly amazing," said Nate Ewell, the Deputy Executive Director of College Hockey, Inc. "Blaine Lacher's record of five-straight shutouts had held up for more than 20 years, through the lowest scoring period in college hockey history. Legendary goalies like Ryan Miller and Jimmy Howard weren't able to touch it. Considering the number of shots Tolvanen faced and the turnaround he engineered in the Wildcats' season, this streak will rightfully be remembered for years to come."
NOTE: Tolvanen's record-setting run was part of a two-month stretch of goaltending excellence that saved the Wildcats' 2016-17 campaign. After stumbling to a 4-16-2 mark and occupying the WCHA cellar during the season's first half, Northern Michigan went 8-4-2 between Jan. 1 and the league's final regular season weekend, a .643 winning percentage that matched Minnesota State for tops in the WCHA and was tied for 15th-best nationally (through Feb. 26). During that stretch, Tolvanen ranked second in the NCAA with a .941 save percentage (447-for-475), lifting the Wildcats into the 2017 WCHA Playoffs as the tournament's eight-seed.
Most Consecutive Shutouts, NCAA Division I Men's Hockey History
1. 5 -- Atte Tolvanen, Northern Michigan, Jan. 21 – Feb. 11, 2017
Blaine Lacher, Lake Superior State, Feb. 26 – March 20, 1994
2. 4 -- Cam Johnson, North Dakota, Dec. 15, 2015 – Jan. 1, 2016
Gerald 'Spike' Schultz, North Dakota, Jan. 14-29, 1054
Longest Scoreless Streaks, NCAA Division I Men's Hockey History
1. 375:01 -- Blaine Lacher, Lake Superior State, 1994
2. 339:05 -- Atte Tolvanen, Northern Michigan, 2017
3. 298:25 -- Cam Johnson, North Dakota, 2015-16
4. 269:52 -- Brian Elliott, Wisconsin, 2006
5. 263:56 – Kasimir Kaskisuo, Minnesota Duluth, 2015
"Top Shelf Moments" from the 2016-17 WCHA Season
12: Everybody Loves a Winner
11: Hats Off
10: Celebrating the 50th in Style
9: 20 x 4
8: The Next Level
7: Dufour's Hat Trick Heroics
6: Kapelmaster Stands Tall
5: All-Americans, On and Off the Ice
4: A CLASS Act
3: Bemidji State Hoists the Cup